One-third of all zombie movies ever produced have appeared in the fifteen years since 9/11. But, as Greg Garrett argues, we shouldn't be surprised by the persistence of stories and images of the living dead in this era of End of Days obsession. Whenever humankind faces what it perceives as threats to its existence, some macabre thing happens in art and literature: corpses begin to stand up and walk around. The dead walked in the fourteenth century, when the Black Death and other catastrophes roiled Europe. They walked in images from World War I, when a generation died in the trenches. They walked in art representing the Holocaust and the atomic attacks on Japan. And now, in the early twenty-first century, stories of the zombie apocalypse pervade post-9/11 Western culture, appearing in popular movies and television shows, comics and graphic novels, fiction, games, art, and even in material culture including pinball machines, zombie runs, and lottery tickets.
The zombie apocalypse, Garrett shows, has become an archetypal narrative for the contemporary world, in part because zombies can represent a variety of global threats, from terrorism to Ebola, from economic uncertainty to mental illness. But paradoxically this narrative also offers human beings a chance to find emotional and spiritual comfort: these apocalyptic stories about individuals facing the imminent prospect of grisly death also offer us wisdom about living in a community, present us with real-world ethical problems, and invite us into a conversation about what it means to survive.
Analyzing works of literature and culture from Homer's Odyssey to World War Z, Garrett considers how these tales of the undead help us find meaning and purpose in life.